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  • From Caliphate To Protectorate: Ethnicity And The Colonial Sabon Gari System In Northern Nigeria
  • Lamont King

Even with the conceptual shift from tribe to ethnic group by Africanists in the post-independence period, pre-colonial African polities have seldom been offered as models of political and economic integration. The territorially defined state, that assimilates members of different ethnic groups who acknowledge the legitimacy of its sovereignty, is a concept usually reserved for the modern nation-state. This state is said to have emerged in Europe during the nineteenth century, as a result of some combination of the development of capitalism, increased state surveillance, and the ideology of citizenship derived from the experiences of the French Revolution.1 This paper is a first step in challenging this perspective. It shows that the Hausa states of pre-colonial northern Nigeria were multi-ethnic polities in which ethnic identity was secondary to territorial identity. Ethnic diversity, within clearly demarcated state boundaries, was not a disruptive factor in the development of the Hausa states, either before or after their incorporation into the Sokoto Caliphate. The salience of ethnicity in northern Nigeria was, however, affected by British colonization. Consequently, the primary focus of this essay is on Indirect Rule and the attendant development of a colonial urban administration that separated southerners from northerners, privileging those with western education and, as a corollary, contributing to Hausa ethnic identification.

Kasar Hausa

The territory from the Ahir mountains in the north to the Jos plateau in the south, and from the border of the ancient Bornu Kingdom in the East to the Niger Valley in the west, was simply called Kasar Hausa — the country of the Hausa language. The term Hausa referred only to the mother tongue of the inhabitants of the territory; it appeared as the ethnic name for the people of this territory in the written Arabic sources only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Until that time, these peoples were known by the names of their particular cities or kingdom.2

The cities of the Kasar Hausa were religious, administrative, and commercial centers distinct from, if closely dependent on, the rural areas around them. The city, with its walls, moat, market, and mosque for Friday prayers, was a corporate unit with a pronounced identity above that of its component lineage and occupational groups. A hierarchy of age-grades enhanced this urban cohesion. The town heads consulted the elders on major matters affecting the town. The adults and youth were the labor and defense forces; they were also mobilized for the maintenance of walls, the building of the market, mosques, and other communal facilities. The youth also came together for circumcision, games, harvests, and religious festivals.3 Consequently, we can obtain an accurate, if somewhat complex, picture of Kasar Hausa prior to the Sokoto Jihad only if we acknowledge that there were other categories, such as age grade, land, and occupation that intersected and often transcended ethnic and religious identification.

It is also important to remember that as early as the fifteenth century centralized states emerged around the walled cities that had become important commercial centers in Kasar Hausa. The most prominent of these were Kano, Katsina, Zazzau, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Gobir. Because of this urban orientation scholars have often characterized these polities as city-states.4 However, the Hausa states contained numerous urban centers that assimilated immigrants of diverse origin to become Katsinawa, Kanawa, etc. (people of Katsina, Kano etc.). The pastoralist Fulbe (Fulani in the Hausa language), who had spread from Futa Toro across much of the West African savanna, were among the most significant of these groups. Immigrants from Ahir in the north and Bornu in the east had also been moving into the area for centuries. However, the great ethnically diverse cities, like Katsina, Kano, and Zaria that resulted from this immigration, did not dominate the economies of their polities. They were, quite simply, the capitals and the largest cities in the kingdoms. There were cities and towns that were older than these capitals; cities that had their own civic consciousness and that had established strong economic and cultural relations with other settlements outside of their respective kingdoms.5 Moreover, these kingdoms...

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